And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.Ephesians 4:32
Let’s continue to look at the fruit that we bear when we abide in Jesus. Jesus assures us (in John 15) that he is the vine and we are the branches. And when we stay attached to Jesus, we will naturally bear his fruit. What is that fruit? Paul identifies this fruit in Galatians 5, in a list that calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are qualities of a spiritual life that naturally occur when we abide in Jesus. I have looked at four of these so far, love, joy, peace, and patience. Now let’s look at the fifth: kindness.
In my devotion on patience, I pointed out that we live in a very impatient world. I think something similar can be said of this fruit: We also live in a very unkind world. Social media is notoriously unkind. Politics is unkind. Even our entertainment can often be unkind.
I think that’s one of the reasons why the show, “Ted Lasso,” is so popular – it features a lead character whose most consistent quality is that of kindness. There are many things about this show that Christians should not like, or approve of, in my opinion. But the sheer kindness of its lead character is a breath of fresh air in our unkind world.
Kindness, you might say, is a quality that is both rare in today’s world, and very much longed for. We want to live in a kind world. But so often we don’t. And sometimes, if we are being honest, we are the reason.
One of the basic ideas that I have been lifting up throughout this Lenten season is that these fruits of the Spirit are not works. They don’t show up in our life because we force them to; they show up when we abide in Christ. He is the vine; we are the branches. When we abide in him, we naturally bear the fruit of the Spirit, including that of kindness.
In other words, when our spiritual life is healthy – when we are spending time with God, and being filled with his love – we can’t help but be kind to others. It is a natural response to knowing and receiving the kindness of God. Kindness received almost can’t help but be shared. We who know the kindness of God are eager to share it. And God knows how much this kindness needs to be shared.
You may be familiar with the following quote. It is one of my favorites:
Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
I like that a lot, because I believe it to be true. Life can be difficult. We all are fighting battles – The person who cut you off in traffic; the salesperson who seemed distracted and uninterested in helping you; the waiter or waitress who acts like they don’t want to be there; the people you see every day at work or at home. Everyone you meet. All of us, fighting some kind of battle.
I like this quote enough to trace its history. It goes back to the days leading up to the “Great War,” World War I. It was first penned (according to quoteinvestigator.com) by a pastor, the Rev. John Watson. He was asked to send a Christmas message to an influential religious weekly in England. He responded by sending a single sentence. He used an old-fashioned word for kindness, however. He used the word, “pitiful.” Be filled with pity for those around you. Be compassionate, merciful, tender, kind. “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.” He went on to share a longer version of his idea, in these words:
“This [person] beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavoring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”
We are all in this together, fighting our battles. So, let’s at least be kind to one another.
Another way to put this can be found, of course, in a much older quote, from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Yes, we all need that. We all need this kindness. This forgiveness. The kindness first shown to us by our loving God. The kindness that is so easy to spread. It is free. It won’t run out when we give it away. And it is certainly needed. Now, more than ever.
So let’s be kind to one another. Let’s be tenderhearted. Let’s be filled with pity, and mercy, and love. Let’s abide in Christ, and let’s have the kindness we receive be the kindness we share, until all this world enjoys this fruit, the fruit of kindness. To the glory of God. Amen.